First Financial Bancorp in Cincinnati saw its earnings rise slightly in the third quarter because of acquisitions and loan growth.

The $7.4 billion-asset company reported Thursday net income of $15.3 million, up 3% from a year earlier. Earnings per share of 26 cents beat the estimates of analysts polled by Bloomberg by three cents.

Total interest income was $63.4 million, up 7% year over year. The company's total loans increased 21%, to $4.8 billion, primarily from the addition of $606.3 million in loans from the acquisition of three banks in Columbus, Ohio: The First Bexley Bank, Insight Bank and The Guernsey Bank.

First Financial's net interest margin compressed 25 basis points, to 3.66%, from a year ago.

Noninterest expenses rose 5%, to $51.4 million, driven by increased salaries tied to the acquisitions. Additionally, a 359% rise expenses for other real estate owned was offset by lower occupancy costs, marketing expenses and no pension settlement charges.

The company recorded a $1.1 million loan loss provision, down 21% from a year earlier, as a five-year loss sharing coverage period related to the purchase of commercial assets from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. concluded at the end of the quarter.

"While loss sharing coverage has certainly provided us with an added layer of loss protection over the past five years, we remain pleased with our covered asset resolution efforts and feel we are well-positioned to manage the risk associated with the remaining commercial assets post loss sharing protection," Claude Davis, president and chief executive of First Financial, said in a Thursday press release.

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